Exiled in Europe: An Interview with Three Women Writers

28 December 2012

Samar Yazbek, a Syrian journalist, writer, and activist who became known in the West following the publication of her book A Woman in the Crossfire, a diary of the beginnings of the revolution in Syria for which she won a PEN Pinter Prize, has lived in Paris in political exile since July 2011. She tends to agree with Soyinka’s notion: a writer is always in exile, she said, this is what pushes him or her to write. “It doesn’t have to be geographical [exile].”

Yazbek is referring in part to her Alawite origins. Like her compatriot the author Rosa Yassin Hassan, in opposing the Assad regime, both women have entered into conflict with and become exiled from their own communities, which have generally backed President Assad, also an Alawite.

Yazbek said her identity is her writing. “Home is my language, my country, my soul, and my life is in my text.”

Because of the “nightmarish phase” Syria is going through, however, Yazbek feels she is now in exile in all senses of the word.

“Before the revolution I wanted to come here, it was the only way I could imagine developing my art . . . now I think exactly the opposite. The only place I can go is Syria. It is my one destiny, but of course I cannot go.”

The notion of exile that writers evoked in the past has now changed with social media, explained Yazbek: “Today there are instant means of communication. Exile in the sense of nostalgia is no longer. You are in a place where the smells and noises are not the ones of your country, but you can communicate constantly and this makes it worse, you can’t simply disconnect.”